Business & Tech

Tiny units, but with luxury extras, are newest South End housing strategy

Elkus Manfredi
A 14-story coliving apartment building is being proposed at Ink Block in the South End.

In their ongoing quest to cater to affluent young urbanites, developers have come up with a new idea inspired by the age-old concept of cohousing.

And in this one, they will even change the sheets for its residents.

Newton-based National Development and Ollie, a New York-based real estate operator, are planning a 14-story “coliving” apartment building at the Ink Block complex in the South End. Think luxury amenities with lots of social activities, but for residents of real small units — a cross between a fancy college dorm and the super-luxe condo buildings, but aimed mainly at 20-somethings too busy to spend much time in their homes.


“You walk into this building and you feel like you’re in a millennial resort,” National Development managing partner Ted Tye said of the coliving buildings Ollie manages in other cities. “It’s kind of like a grown-up college experience.”

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The term “communal living” might evoke a hippie-style setup where everyone takes turns weeding the vegetable garden or washing dishes, but what National and Ollie have in mind is decidedly more high-service. Residents will still have their own cooking and bath facilities. But they will also get housekeeping services, such as linens and towels, and cable and Wi-Fi services as part of their rent. Many units will even come with furniture, custom-built.

National Development submitted a proposal for the 245-unit building with the city of Boston Monday. The companies expect many of the units to be quite small — less than 400 square feet. Ollie has similar buildings in New York City and Pittsburgh, with others under construction in Jersey City and Los Angeles. Each has a live-in “community manager,” who organizes social events, such as sightseeing tours or wine tastings. Residents are called “members,” and they can hang out at Ollies in other cities free of charge.

“We’re trying to offer a friction-free style of living,” said Ollie cofounder Chris Bledsoe. “The ability to show up with a backpack full of clothes, your toothbrush, and your laptop and be ready to go.”

While renters have, of course, long paired up in Boston and elsewhere, these type of purpose-built cohousing projects are becoming more common as developers look for creative ways to woo 20-somethings in a crowded, and costly, market.


A number of newer buildings in Boston, especially in the Seaport, have so-called micro units, very small apartments that are designed with the idea residents would spend free time in the building’s common lounges. WeWork, which provide co-working office space, is dipping into the housing market with “WeLive” buildings in New York and Washington, D.C., where members can stay in private studios or larger shared apartments for as long as they want.

Unlike WeLive’s short-term arrangements, the Ollie buildings have typical leases. They also have units with several bedrooms for roommates. Ollie’s building in Pittsburgh has one-bedroom units up to 780 square feet, and three-bedroom apartments with 1,400 square feet.

In part because of their cozy confines, rents will likely run about 10 percent less than a comparable unit at the more-traditional Ink Block apartment buildings, where a studio goes for about $2,500 a month.

Ollie has been eyeing Boston for some time. Bledsoe says the city has the highest share of people renting out spare rooms on Craigslist — something his company considers a key indicator of demand — of any big market in the country.

And, he said, they found a good partner in National Development.


The 6-acre Ink Block complex includes a Whole Foods and hundreds of high-end apartments and condos, and soon a Marriott-branded hotel. At 14 stories, the coliving building will be the tallest yet at Ink Block, though a bit shorter than the nearby Troy apartment building.

While the broader Ink Block complex has been approved by the city, and the 14-story tower fits zoning outlines for the neighborhood, the project will need approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

Tye said city officials have been receptive to the idea, and the filing Monday will launch official review, with more detailed plans coming next month. National hopes to start construction next year.

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.